The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board has approved a bid from a Norwegian-based company to explore two offshore oil parcels.

Statoil Canada Ltd., in response to the board's call for bids from earlier this year, has committed to spending $82 million during the first six years of a nine-year exploration licence. 

Nova Scotia Energy Minister Michel Samson said he was pleased by the development.

"When you keep in mind where the price of oil is today . . . to see these types of investments being made and expressions of interest in our offshore, I think it's a great sign of confidence."

Samson said more work would have to be done, including environmental assessments before Statoil would get final approval for drilling.

If approval is granted by federal and Nova Scotia officials, the regulatory board said it would issue two exploration licences on Jan. 15.

Statoil manages business operations in over 30 countries and has offshore operations near Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The company now wants to explore two of nine parcels about 200 kilometres off Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore. Statoil's work expenditure bid for parcel one is $5,815,000. For parcel two, they've committed $76,185,000.

Fisheries concerns

Those sites, however, are important to lobster, scallop and groundfish fisheries.

"All of those fisheries are potentially in danger and it's well in excess of a billion dollars annually to the economy of Nova Scotia and it deserves to be protected," said John Davis, director of the Clean Ocean Action Committee.

He says the parcels are just east of Georges Bank and sit on the Scotian Shelf. Parcel one shares a border with a drilling moratorium area, he says, and the second is northeast of that.

Roger LeBlanc, a representative of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said the federal and provincial governments are putting money ahead of the fisheries.

"We don't want to go all out west," he told Radio-Canada's Fernande Devost. "Our blood is in southwest Nova and we want to stay here, but we want a healthy fishery."

The release from the province says strategic environmental assessments have been conducted. Though exploration licences have been issued, there are still conditions Statoil will be required to meet.


Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board CEO Stuart Pinks indicates the locations of the exploratory areas. (CBC)

"The CNSOPB will require a project-specific environmental assessment to be conducted for any proposed offshore work and must be satisfied that it is unlikely to cause significant adverse environmental effects before issuing any authorization," said Stuart Pinks, the petroluem board's CEO. 

Davis says he wants regulations that will force companies to pledge to clean up any spills and to commit to not spraying chemical dispersants.

"To date, it [environmental impacts] has not been taken into account," he says.

With files from The Canadian Press